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“There’s Only 58, So Get Over It!”


truncate (TRUNG-kate) v. To shorten, as by cutting off.

My cousin Barb’s husband Jim is doubly entitled to be a crusty old bugger, being a retired police officer (he was a Captain on the Berkeley, California, police force) and a retired full-bird Colonel (USAF). Every time I visit Jim at his Bay Area home, he and I spend a lot of time discussing things. We do love to get under each other’s skin. Jim is an S.O.B. (Sweet Old Buddy) and I am a PCPWHNIHTWRW (Pinko College Professor Who Has No Idea How the World Really Works). Barb referees our discussions, being careful to duck out of the way and shield her ears when we really get into it.

During my most recent visit to the Left Coast, Jim and I were discussing national parks and he was rattling on about how he and Barb intended to visit all of them before they died. I told him that he’d have to step up the pace if he expected to visit all 391 before we planted him. He told me that he only has to visit 58, there being only 58 National Park System units designated National Park. He added that I was sadly uninformed for a geography professor, and that he intended to live long enough to dance on my grave. He did not actually say “dance.”

This conversation took place last January, and I thought I had paid no heed to Jim’s argument. (After all, I almost never pay serious attention to anything that Jim says.) But just recently I noticed that my use of national park terminology has shifted perceptibly. In the past few months I’ve gotten into the habit of referring to the 58 national park-designated units as national parks and the rest as simply NPS units.

Without benefit of conscious decision, I have subscribed to the notion that “All national parks are NPS units, but not all NPS units should be called national parks.” In other words, I have, at least at some subconscious level, come around to Jim’s way of thinking.

What a revolting development! The very thought that Jim will now be given free rein to gloat is almost more than I can bear. I briefly considered not telling him about my cognitive conversion but decided that this would be the coward’s way out. So, when I see him next month (the three of us are going to visit Redwood and Crater Lake together) I’m going to tell him that, after allowing for legitimate differences of opinion, and with due regard for his woeful ignorance of enabling legislation, Congressional intent, Supreme Court rulings, and National Park Service traditions, policies and practices, it may be technically appropriate for him to truncate his national park life list at 58.


that was a priceless bit of commentary. i am laughing inwardly not trying to wake up the children. my eyes are streaming but so glad you enlightened us on how many national parks we have. i see i have many to see but have visited several of them many times. do repeats count?

Anon: Of course you can count repeats if you want to! It's your hobby.... :o)

I couldn't agree with you more, Rangertoo. I've written on this topic before, and I intend to do it again. Traveler readers who've joined this general thread late might want to have a look at our article "Are There Really 391 Units in the National Park System? You Won’t Think So After You Read This!".

Silliness. The title national park is meaningless and confuses the public. Witness the recently published National Geographic Guide to the National Parks. The previous edition did not include Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area or Congaree Swamp National Monument. Now, because their names were changed, they are in. Nothing about the parks has actually changed. Same size, same resources, same governing laws. Only the names. So, now they are worthy of putting in the guide book and being placed on a "life list," but before they were not? Silliness.

And in the end, what does it matter? We all choose to go to "units" of the NPS for different reasons...peace, serenity, beauty, history, education, adventure, love of nature and all things outdoors. As long as we can protect AND enjoy, I'll visit them whatever they're called. Once I recover from laughing at this story!

I thought this item would be a reflection on the late presidential campaign .....

" It is wonderful to be back in Oregon," Obama said. "Over the last 15 months, we’ve traveled to every corner of the United States. I’ve now been in 57 states? I think one left to go. .... " May '08.

Har har

I think the name does matter. For instance there's a big difference between a national park and preserve. In any case, non-national parks like to say they are national parks too.

From Ozark NSR FAQ page:

Is this a state or national park?

Many people are surprised to learn that the Ozark National Scenic Riverways is a national park, just like Yellowstone or Gettysburg. The three largest campground areas, Alley Spring, Big Spring and Round Spring all used to be Missouri State Parks and some people still refer to “Alley Spring State Park,” which adds to the confusion. These three places stopped being “State Parks” in 1964 when the people of Missouri generously donated them to the federal government as the anchors for the new Ozark National Scenic Riverways. They were essentially the gift of Missouri to the nation.

Also Boston Harbor Islands apparently likes to call itself a "national park area."

The absurdity of this will become more obvious when the Ken Burns series on national parks airs on PBS next month. Mr. Burns chose to focus only on the "national parks," not any other designation. And ignored national parks he did not find worthy like Cuyahoga and Hot Springs. The NPS is playing this series up and telling all the parks to catch this wave of publicity. I think it will leave the public confused when they try to relate their nearby national monument or national seashore to a “national park”. I also think many NPS employees will also see this as insulting to their units because they are left out of the series. Is Dinosaur National Monument really inferior to Congaree National Park? Is a series that omits Gettysburg, the Statue of Liberty, and Cape Cod really showing the greatness of the National Park System? I think not.

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